The Social CRM Debate: What is it? And are the Two Terms Really Compatible?

I am not a CRM expert but a social media consultant, so I will treat myself kindly and say that I have an unbiased view on CRM (sounds better than saying I’m inexperienced). However, I do know enough to know that – using the broadest definition of the term – customer relationship management is not a bad thing. If we all managed our relationships better, everyone would be happier.

However, CRM seems to be more about data mining to better exploit customers (and I am using “exploit” non-judgmentally). The top-down approach is what – ultimately – gets in the way of developing relationships with customers based on trust. I think that being “social” with customers and potential customers is a very different thing. Through social media you have the ability to relate in ways that are similar to real life. The difference is that you can connect with hundreds of people, not just a dozen or so. Social media is obviously enabled by technology, but it is essentially about the people who converse there.

I think that companies like Oracle and the multitude of CRM vendors are not going to create products that enhance relating in the social media. For one, the solutions are not all that complex to build and there will not be enough money in it for them. Anyone who comes up with a way for people to put their many friends, colleagues, and acquaintances in various buckets so that they can relate to them as a group of individuals will succeed. It is tough to have to go to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Flickr, YouTube, Delicious, TripIt, etc. to see what individual people are doing.

If I were a sales person, I would want to be able to more easily engage with my active prospects or my top customers as a group. I would want to be able to see what Joe Brown was doing and get engaged with him, then look in on Mary Jones, then Charles Williams. It is a simple flip from the “place” perspective (Facebook. Twitter, etc.) to the “person” perspective that will make social media easier to use and obviate the need for CRM.


9 Replies to “The Social CRM Debate: What is it? And are the Two Terms Really Compatible?”

  1. Hi Catherine,

    Thought provoking post, with an interesting perspective on Social CRM.

    You may even be right that the multitude of CRM vendors will not be the ones creating products that enhance listening, conversation & relationship building.. Isn't it true that truly radical innovations mostly come from new companies that are not hindered by legacies and are not in the spirit of "continuous improvement".

    I think in the end there will be an important role for a strategy based on the building of relationships with Customers. Data mining & gathering will remain important too. Social Media is there to stay with an important role as well.

    Innovation of our strategies and business models may be required and is not coming from any of the above though.

    Radical innovations that enhance Customer's, Company's, Employee's and Partner's (let's say: people's) lives, will occur on, or just beyond, the edges of Web 2.0, Enterprise 2.0, Social Media, Social Business Design, Customer Relationship Management, Customer Experience Management and Outcome Driven Innovation.

    It may be a simple flip from place to person perspective.. the turn from conversation to radically innovative products and services that change people's lives, is a lot more difficult to understand and describe, let alone make it happen..

    Please share your thoughts..

    Wim Rampen
    Passionate about Customers

  2. Good conversation starter, Catherine. While I am not a CRM expert I like to play one on my blog. I struggle, honestly, with some of the same questions you do as well… Will today's vendors really be able to deliver Social CRM?

    My answer is simply No. The reasons, while longer than I'll bore you with in a comment include:

    – Social CRM, which I prefer to refer to as Social Business Design/Strategy is really a strategic framework for businesses, not a toolset at all.
    – CRM failure rates typically run about 50% (which I suspect is conservative). These vendors have been unable to, or uninterested in, building tools that help resolve that fundamental, and very costly, fact.

    Social will play a key role in the evolution of business, providing a richer dynamic for customers and companies alike. Social CRM will continue to play into hype, though, until we begin to address the more fundamental failures of the CRM solutions of the past.


  3. I tend to think about Social CRM more as an oportunity to make this pesky relationship management a two way street. As Social Media provides Customers with an ability to be heard, publically or via company sponsored communities, we are looking at integration of Market Research and Compatitive Intelligence disciplines, methodologies and tools into CRM strategy executuon.

  4. As long as a company OWNS and CONTROLLS content that is only INTERNALLY accessible, it doesn't feel very social to me. If that data would be OPEN, SHARED and enriched through all parties' CONTRIBUTION then I'd consider it social.

    I just haven't seen such a social CRM system yet ;-)


  5. Hi Axel,

    Interesting point, but in the light of privacy protection not feasible. IMHO it would be fair though, if not required, that a Customer can see, understand and influence the data(records) a company holds on him.

    Secondly Social CRM is not a system (in the sense of software that is). Social CRM is a strategy. Whether Social CRM is the right terminology is really not that relevant to me. What is relevant: How can we (business) leverage Social Media, Web 2.0, Enterprise 2.0 and Social Business Design etc etc to create disruptive innovations that change people's lives..

    Bottom line: we need to step outside of business 1.0 thinking, which includes that Customer Relationship Management is about sofware, systems and data (analytics) and has done nothing but fail. We also need to stop telling what we have not seen or expect not to see. At this stage of Social XYZ we haven't seen much yet because we just got started.

    We need to tell the stories on what have we seen that works well and does not work well, so that we can learn and build upon the experiences.

    What do you think?

    Wim Rampen (@wimrampen on Twitter)
    Passionate about Customers

  6. @Wim – you are right with the "privacy protection" issue. SocialCRM remains that square shaped ball. But I only can say that as we will introduce a first step towards a solution in November. Will give a sneak preview to the "new and round ball" Oct. 29 at the "B2B Sales event" at please join if you have the time. Like you requested – thinking outside the box – literally.

  7. That was a intriguing read|. Your insights were very informative and made me reconsider the latest trends in these areas. If only more writers are as informed and as passionate about educating the public about these issues as you, we aspiring journalists wouldn’t get such a bad rep. Appreciate expressing your self so articulately. You made my day.

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